As the Bulls opened the doors to the Advocate Center to welcome their partners and their children for the team’s 24th Annual Kids Clinic on Monday, Derrick Rose had a message to those he was instructing.
“Compete or go home,” Rose said with a smile.
Rose was kidding of course, as he worked with the youngsters along with Nazr Mohammed at a station that emphasized dribbling.
“We’re just trying to teach them the game a little and have some fun,” said Rose. “It seems like they’re enjoying it and that’s why we’re here. We’re just showing them another way to find some happiness and live in the moment.”
For Rose, an evening of focusing on the fundamentals with the young athletes took him back to his own childhood.
“For sure,” said Rose, whose son P.J. was among those in attendance. “It’s a pretty mixed group. You may have a 13-year old in one group and a six-year old in another. So we’re just trying to have fun with them and let them know we care. It’s been great getting to know the kids a little, as well as the partners.”The night began as approximately 280 guests, half of which were children, made their way through a multitude of areas on the practice court, from carnival games to a face painter to photo booths to a balloon artist.
“This is one of the many ways we say thanks to our partners for being a part of the organization,” noted Scott Sonnenberg, Vice President of Corporate Sales for the Bulls. “It really is a highlight. There’s nothing better for a parent than to do something for your kids and this is always an exciting night for us. We’ve got a lot of regulars who absolutely love this event. They look forward to this night each and every year. They love it and we do too.”
Following Sonnenberg’s opening remarks, the game-night experience of the United Center was on display as Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and his team were introduced. Each player entered the gym and high-fived the children on hand. General Manager Gar Forman was also in attendance.
The players then split up into a total of six stations that emphasized a different area of the game. Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and E’Twaun Moore taught defensive fundamentals.
“We’re just trying to pass along a couple things,” explained Gasol. “Our station is defense, so we’re trying to make it fun and entertaining because it’s not always the most fun part of the game. We’re just trying to show the kids a good time and interact with them. We’re showing them how to get low and get in a defensive stance, shuffle their feet and slide one way or the other. It’s been fun.”
Like Rose, Gasol couldn’t help but think back to when he first became interested in basketball as a child, but with one caveat.“I didn’t have NBA players teaching me or spending time with me when I was young,” he smiled. “It’s a great opportunity for the kids and their parents to have this kind of unique experience.”
Nikola Mirotic, who along with Joakim Noah worked on passing with the young players, attended his first kids clinic.
“It’s really important to teach the fundamentals so the kids understand the value in making a good pass to their teammates,” said Mirotic. “It’s been a great time. The kids are having fun and we’re enjoying it too.
“It brings back a lot of great memories,” added Mirotic. “For me, I was very fortunate to have some great teachers and coaches in my life. For these kids, hopefully we’re an inspiration for them. We just want to show them some of the basics and have fun along the way.”
After groups were done rotating through the player stations, everyone in attendance enjoyed a variety show from the Bulls Entertainment Network, including performances from Benny the Bull and the Luvabulls. To finish the night, guests ate dinner, courtesy of Wildfire.
That the entire team was there to participate and actively engaged with the children, as well as their parents, was what ultimately made the night a success, explained Sonnenberg.
“I think the biggest thing is for everyone to see the players up close,” said Sonnenberg of the experience. “They see them on TV and they see them at our games, but they aren’t able to get close to them. So to come here and do that, then see they are real people who are also nice, and be able to play basketball with them, that’s the biggest thing they take away.”
Of the many partners on hand, the night had a little extra significance for Kelly Jo Golson of Advocate Health Care. Advocate is the naming rights partner for the team’s new state of the art practice facility.
“One of the things that has been so great about our partnership with the Bulls is that they are so committed to improving the community and there is a very real notion about family and giving back,” said Golson. “This event is a great sign of that because it is giving all of these families and the children something in being able to come here and experience it.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Golson continued. “My children are obviously huge Bulls fans so to give them an experience to come and candidly get to see and meet some of the great people I have the luxury of working with on a regular basis is really something. Not only do they get to experience that at the great Advocate Center, they are able to interact with a great group of players and a great team that is about more than just winning on the court. It’s about giving back.”
Doug Hooks of Nestle USA, a kids clinic regular, echoed Golson’s thoughts.
“The event is so well put together and the players are so approachable,” said Hooks. “We’ve got a series of photos at home and it is neat to see the memories over the years. My son William first came here when he was 18 months and he’s seven now. We’ve been here every year and it’s just an extremely well done family event and a neat chance to interact with the team and its players. It’s also a chance for us to say thank you for everything the Bulls do for us.”
Hooks sees the event as another way the team goes above and beyond for its partners.
“Certainly, this is a real unique benefit that we get as part of our programming,” Hooks acknowledged. “We’re very excited about the in-stadium vending and the marketing that comes with it, but a night like this is a unique and different opportunity that we have to interface with the organization and one that we’re very fortunate to have.”